Merciful Truths

God’s Word doesn’t mince words. Sometimes the truth hurts. But it also mercifully, joyfully, frees.

Lately, the Lord has been using several merciful truths from this familiar passage to give me some joyful freedom.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. (I Peter 5:6-7, NAS)

Ok, quick grammar lesson. If you’re like me, you tend to put a period after verse six. In fact, many Bible translations do. In the original Greek, however, these two verses form one sentence. I believe they are meant to be connected, and for a surprising reason.

Truth #1:  Exalting myself is at the heart of my anxiety.

Ouch. This one hit me hard, because I knew it was true. It’s called Pride, and it’s Ugly. When we’re anxious, isn’t it because deep down we want to be in control of a situation? We fret and worry in vain attempts to secure the outcome that seems best to US.

Time for another grammar lesson. The command in this sentence is “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God.” Why? Because HE is GOD and I am NOT. Pride exalts myself, deceiving me into thinking that I know best. Humility surrenders self and yields to God’s sovereign control.

Truth #2:  Casting my cares on Him is an act of humility.

Some Bible versions translate verse seven into the imperative: “Cast your cares upon the Lord…” But in the Greek text this verb isn’t in the form of a direct command.* Casting our cares upon Him is how we demonstrate the command to humble ourselves. The NET renders it like this:

…humble yourselves under his mighty hand BY casting all your cares on him… (Emphasis mine)

Bible teacher Beth Moore sums it up this way:

The act of humility is in the casting. The pride is in the keeping.”**

One final grammar lesson. The verb for “casting” was “used of casting garments on a beast of burden.”* Luke 19:35 contains this same Greek verb, and gives us a helpful word picture:

So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on. (NLT)

The disciples threw (cast) their garments on the colt, and Jesus rode on them in triumphal procession. When I cast my cares upon Jesus, I’m getting off of my high horse and allowing Him to take His rightful seat as King. I give Him my worries and admit my inability to control my situation. I say, “Jesus, be Lord over this. Jesus, please ride in triumph over this.”

Truth #3:  Believing God cares for me is a place of rest.

As I cast my cares upon Him, I am comforted, because He cares for me. He. Cares. For. Me.  Say it. Believe it!

Everything He does is motivated out of His love for us and for those we love. Instead of fretting about the outcome, we can actually, amazingly, rest. Because He genuinely cares and truly knows best.

This is changing how I pray. I no longer feel compelled to convince God that He should do what I think needs to be done in a particular situation. Instead, I pray something like this:

Lord, You know I’m worrying about _________. I confess my pride, my desire to play God here. I humble myself by casting my concerns upon You, because You are God. You alone are capable of handling this. I am not built to shoulder this burden, but You are. You are Almighty God, Creator, King. So I give it to You. You know what is best. I know You love me, and You also love _________. Instead of worrying about this, I will rest in the reality of Your love and care.

What welcome relief this brings!

Now whenever I feel anxiety rising, I try to remember to stop and acknowledge my pride. I’m learning to humble myself by casting my cares upon the Lord, letting go of my need to be in control, affirming that He is Able and I am Not. I’m resting in His loving care for me and for those I care about.

Yes, the truth can hurt. Pride and anxiety hurt too. But these merciful truths are beginning to set me free.

Seeds of Growth

 

*From a study of 1 Peter 5:6-7 called “Counsel Concerning Our Cares” by J. Hampton Keathley, at www.bible.org.

**From her excellent series, “The Basket Case,” which was the main inspiration for this blog post. If you’d like to watch it, go to www.tbn.org. Look for “Living Proof with Beth Moore” in the “Video Archives.”

An Important Note:  I wanted to share these biblical truths because they were helpful to me in my own struggles with worry and anxiety. I am aware that some of my brave friends battle more severe, chronic anxiety. I commend them for seeking professional help and encourage anyone who may be dealing with this to do the same.

 

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Calling Home

The twelve men had been with Jesus long enough to know that He enjoyed a unique relationship with God. On more than one occasion they discovered him missing, only to stumble upon him praying. Like someone on an extended journey, homesick, frequently compelled to call home.

They saw how He derived strength and serenity from those conversations. The intimacy He had with the Lord was intriguing. For months they had watched and now they wanted what He had.

One day, one of them finally had the courage to verbalize what they were all thinking.

“Lord, teach US to pray.”

They waited. Would He be willing to share His secrets?

Sensing their readiness for what He was about to reveal, the Rabbi began.

“When you pray, say…Father.”

Father?

Had they heard that right? Did He really just say…Abba?

Their Scriptures referred to God as “Father,” but only rarely. Just 15 times, to be exact. No God-fearing Jew would have the chutzpah to approach the Most High God and address Him as “Abba.” It felt irreverent. But, at the same time, inviting.

It was, indeed, an invitation into the intimate fellowship of Father and Son. A new way of relating to Almighty God was opening up. The Teacher continued to instruct and prepare them for this coming change.

It took some getting used to, this idea of familiarity with Yahweh. His was a name so holy it could not be spoken out loud, and could only be written if the vowels were omitted. It seemed outrageous that the great “I AM” would now answer to the name “Abba.” He was a God to be kept at a safe distance.

What they didn’t understand at the time was that Jesus Himself was The Way to closeness with the Father. He was the means by which men could be brought near to God. He was the path to Heaven, which would be paved by His death, and opened by the Spirit upon His return to the Father.

Soon it would all make sense. Then they would begin to call Him Abba, Father.

He invites us to call Him Father, too.

Regardless of what kind of dad you had, whether he’s in heaven or still on earth, you can experience the love of a perfect Heavenly Father. Jesus makes this possible. He closed the gap between Holy God and unholy man. He brings us before His Father’s throne and introduces us as family. We are welcomed as sons and daughters.

We are Embraced. Chosen. Forgiven. Adopted. Loved.

When we pray, we say Abba, Father.

He Hears. Responds. Cares. Answers. Acts.

It’s Father’s Day. Why don’t you call home? Your Father is waiting to hear from you.

Father

Notes:

–Some of the thoughts I shared in this blog were inspired by a commentary on the Fatherhood of God by Robert H. Stein. Here is an excerpt: “The teaching of the Fatherhood of God takes a decided turn with Jesus, for “Father” was his favorite term for addressing God. It appears on his lips some sixty-five times in the Synoptic Gospels and over one hundred times in John. The uniqueness of Jesus’ teaching on this subject is evident for several reasons. For one, the rarity of this designation for God is striking. There is no evidence in pre-Christian Jewish literature that Jews addressed God as “Abba.” A second unique feature about Jesus’ use of Abba as a designation for God involves the intimacy of the term. Abba was a term little children used. This was not just a way Jesus taught his disciples to address God; it was the way.”

–Jesus’ teaching on prayer can be found in Matthew 6:5-13 and Luke 11:1-13.

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The Heart of Prayer

(Note: These principles were adapted from a class I taught at church a few years ago.)

Prayer heart

When it comes to prayer, it’s all about the “heart.”  Here are three ways you can connect your heart to His when you pray…

1–SHARE your heart.

A common question when approaching prayer is: “What do I pray for?”

The amazing answer is:  “Anything and Everything!”

But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! (John 15:7, NLT)

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. (Philippians 4:6, NLT)

He cares about it all! Come to Him as a little child, running to a strong and loving father. Just like that child, you can talk to your Father about whatever  is on your heart…

O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62:8, NLT)

2–REFLECT His heart.

But as you spend time with your Heavenly Father in prayer, a funny thing happens. He begins to change your heart.  You will start to want what He wants and care about the things He cares about. Here are some great questions, right out of God’s Word, to help you align your heart with His as you pray:

1)  Am I in a right relationship with Him?  Is this request consistent with His Word?

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7, NAS)

God is not a “vending machine,” where you insert a prayer and out pops your selection. In this verse we see two conditions to answered prayer: abiding in Him and allowing His words to abide in us.  “Abiding” implies connection, relationship. This should be your first priority in prayer.

2)  Will it bring glory to God?

You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it! (John 14:13-14, NLT)

It’s not about me! It’s all about Him, His fame, His glory. Keep this in mind as you pray.

3)  Will it help further His purposes?

You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. (John 15:16, NLT)

We are here on this earth to have an eternal influence. Surrendering to God’s purposes for your life is essential to experiencing answered prayer.

4)  Is my faith in God or in a certain outcome?

But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. (James 1:6a, NLT)

Look to the Giver, not to the gifts you desire from Him. Mature faith focuses on WHO God is rather than on WHAT we want.

5)  Are my motives pure?

Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.  And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. (James 4:2b-3, NLT) 

If you’re not seeing answers to your prayers, perhaps you need to pause and ask God to purify your motives and cleanse your heart. Then your prayers will more clearly reflect His heart.

3–TRUST His heart.

Prayer is always answered.  But a good father doesn’t say “Yes” to everything.

A parent will not always confer the “very thing” which a child asks, but he will seek the welfare of the child, and give what he thinks will be most for its good.”*

God answers prayer in one of three ways:

  1.  No, I love you too much.
  2.  I love you, but you’ll have to wait.
  3.  Yes! I thought you’d never ask!  (And I love you!)**

LOVE is ALWAYS the reason behind His answers! You can trust His heart, even when He says “No.” Remember that He loves you, even in the disappointment, even in the waiting.

Come to Him in prayer. As a dearly loved child. Welcomed by a good and perfect Father.

Pour out your heart to Him. Then ask Him to change your heart. Above all, trust His heart of love.

He will answer you.

And you will learn to love Him all the more.

 

*Barnes’ Notes on the Bible

**Ron Rimby, from “There’s an App for That!” (Italics mine.)

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Sticky Note Prayers

Pray

My husband and I enjoyed a spontaneous date last night to see the movie “War Room.” Have you seen it? It’s a heartwarming story of the life-changing power of prayer. The title comes from the example of the elderly Miss Clara, a prayer warrior. Taking the words of Matthew 6:6 literally, she dedicated an actual closet in her home as a “war room,” where she engaged in spiritual battle through prayer. (The King James Version of the Bible translates the word for “inner room” in this verse as “closet.”)

But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

Now, I don’t really consider myself a prayer warrior. But apparently some of my friends do. I regularly get texts, emails and Facebook messages requesting prayer for various needs and concerns.

I’m humbled. And I care. So I pray.

I don’t have a prayer closet. It’s more like a prayer bed. Sticky notes of various sizes and colors often dot my bedside nightstand. (Only they don’t usually stick because I rarely dust. They’re more like floaty notes.)

I think my little prayer “system” began when I started jotting down names on the nearest sticky note to remind me to pray. And you know what? It worked! Tiny neon rectangles catch the eye and convey a sense of urgency:

Do this. NOW.

At the end of the day, before I turn out the light, I pray. I pray for a couple of lovely ladies who are going through, or recovering from, cancer treatments. Sweet friends who are going through difficult transitions. Precious ones who are grappling with the fresh loss of family members. God-loving parents who are dealing with wayward children.

Writing a name on a simple sticky note has become a sacred commitment to intercede on their behalf. Yes, there are nights when I’m too tired to pray. Other times I don’t know what to pray. I entrust these dear souls to the Faithful One who intercedes for them with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26).

HE knows what to do. HE knows what they need.

Is God asking you to pray? Don’t let examples like Miss Clara’s intimidate you. Just start somewhere. Whenever, wherever, whatever works for you. God is infinitely creative.

Don’t know how to pray? Just talk to Him. Share your heart. Pray a Scripture. Sing a worship song. His Spirit will guide you.

Are you in need of prayer? I would be honored to pray for you. Just click on the “About Me” link where you will find my email address.

But first…

Let me go and grab a sticky note! 😉

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6:18, NIV)

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Letter to a Disappointed Bride

Dear Disappointed Bride,

I know you wanted the sun to shine on your special day. Every bride does. We equate sunshine with joy and happiness. We feel like God is smiling down on us when the sun shines.

Of course you prayed for sun.

But instead you got rain. Or snow. (Or a tornado. Or two, like one recent Wyoming spring bride. Her pictures were epic, btw.)

So you had to go with Plan B. If you even had a Plan B.

I understand.

Friday was our eldest daughter’s wedding day. It started out sunny and bright, but by mid-afternoon the rain had arrived, uninvited. During a brief respite, we optimistically seated our guests for the outdoor ceremony, hoping to sneak it in before the next storm front rolled through.

The clouds darkened. Lightening threatened. We prayed.

And the heavens opened.

Literally.

We baptized our guests that evening. They fled for refuge into the barn where the reception–and now the ceremony–was to be held. (Some of them are even still speaking to us.)

Hello, Plan B.

Perhaps, like me, you sometimes find yourself secretly envious of those other “lucky” brides, whose plans to get hitched went off without a hitch. You might wonder why God didn’t answer your prayers in the same way. And maybe deep down you feel that He wasn’t blessing your union quite as much as He blessed theirs.

I’ve got some good news for you.

The superstitious believe that rain on a wedding day brings good luck. Some cultures view rain as a sign of fertility and cleansing. The Bible also has much to say about rain. I found this on a website explaining the symbolic meaning of biblical words:*

Rain:  Something refreshing, delightful.”

I know it didn’t feel delightful at the time. But biblically, rain, not sun, is the imagery most often used to indicate God’s blessing, favor and presence.

So let these truths from His Word disperse any clouds of disappointment still lingering after your storm…

1)  You were blessed.

I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. (Ezekiel 34:26, NIV)

2)  God was smiling on you.

When the king smiles, there is life; his favor refreshes like a spring rain. (Proverbs 16:16, NLT)

3)  He was there, right in your midst.

So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; and He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rain watering the earth. (Hosea 6:3, NAS)

And one final thought…

4)  Our Plan B is always God’s Plan A.

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. (Proverbs 19:21, NIV)

He planned that our daughter’s wedding ceremony would be held in a barn.

He planned that His Son would be born in a stable.

His plans are always best.

Beloved bride, you will encounter storms and disappointments in your married life as well. Your wedding day was good practice in how to handle them with faith and grace. You’re off to a great start.

I hope this helps you feel better about that darn weather.

I know it helped me.

Love,

A Mother-of-the-Bride

P.S. It rained on my wedding day, too.

11393358_934448329909059_6895897376186555008_o

(Here is our elegant Emily posing for a bridal portrait in the barn. The light streaming in from the window above was like a spotlight on them during the ceremony. And the glory of the Lord shone all around.)

*www.biblestudy.org

**Huge thank you to Liz Osban Photography for this photo and for so masterfully capturing the warmth and beauty of their special day.

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A Modern-Day Esther

“The person I want to be more like this year is ___________.”

This was the statement we were asked to complete as part of a group sharing activity at a recent MOPS meeting. (In case you’re not familiar with MOPS, it stands for “Mothers of Preschoolers. No, I am NOT a MOP. I guess I’m a MOT: “Mother of Teenager.” But I do serve this local MOPS group as a “Mentor Mom.”)

Ok. Back to the fill-in-the-blank. Because my mind went blank. I couldn’t think of anyone. So I opted for the standard Sunday School answer:

Jesus.

(It’s the answer that’s always right, right?)

And while I DO desire to be more like Jesus, after the events of this past week I now have a new name I would fill in that blank:

Naghmeh Abedini.

Have you heard of her?

She is a modern-day “Esther.”

Naghmeh’s husband, Saeed, a pastor, has been wrongfully imprisoned in his native country of Iran for his Christian faith. Naghmeh has advocated tirelessly over the past two and a half years for his release, boldly approaching visiting diplomats, writing letters, giving television interviews, and speaking publicly about her husband’s plight. This month she organized three weeks of focused prayer and fasting, calling on fellow believers to join her in believing God for a breakthrough in Saeed’s situation.

When she heard that President Obama would be unexpectedly visiting her hometown of Boise, Idaho on January 21, she believed it was no coincidence, but a direct answer to those many prayers. So Naghmeh sent the president a respectful, impassioned letter requesting a meeting. She called on her people to pray that God would make the improbable, possible. Like Esther before she approached the king, Naghmeh fasted and prayed for three days. The day before the president’s scheduled visit, she received word that he had indeed agreed to meet with her and her two young children!

She posted this on her Facebook page last night:

I got to meet with President Obama today! The kids and I were in a small office room with him and he was gracious with his time (we met for over 10 minutes). I told him that I had refrained from food for 3 days and prayed and fasted and God had ordained this meeting. He shook his head and smiled. I told him that the kids and I prayed for him and loved him (that as Christians that is what we are to do). He said he needed prayer. He said that getting Saeed out is a top priority and he is working very hard to get Saeed home back to our family. Jacob then asked him “Mr. President, can you please bring my daddy home for my birthday?” President Obama asked Jacob when his birthday was and Jacob said March 17…President Obama said “I am going to try very hard to make that happen, Jacob. I am going to try very hard…” Praise God!

What an amazing story!

All because of her unfailing love for her husband. All because of her unrelenting faith in an Almighty God. All because she called people to fast and pray. All because she refuses to give up.

Yes. I want to be more like her.

More fierce in my love, more persistent in my prayers, more gutsy in my faith.

Unlike Esther, the end of Naghmeh’s story is still being written. We don’t yet know how it will end. (Whatever the outcome, we know it will be good. Because GOD is good.) But I’m thankful that, in the meantime, God is using her faith and boldness to challenge and inspire us, just like Esther, “for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14b, NIV)

Naghmeh

 

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Into the Storm

Gray clouds

There’s a new tornado disaster movie in theaters called “Into the Storm.”  I’m not sure I want to go see it.  I’m still recovering from my own brief, but traumatizing tornado “encounter.”  No pun intended, but here’s how it went down…

I was out shopping on a Sunday afternoon last month when, for the second time this summer, my cell phone vibrated with this ominous message:

“Emergency Alert. Tornado Warning in this area til 2:00 PM MDT. Take shelter now.”

Yikes.

I hastily abandoned my cart with its contents and hurried to a neighboring store to collect Laurel and her two friends.  Outside in the parking lot, we scanned the horizon in search of a funnel cloud.  Seeing nothing but dark clouds and gray skies, I decided to make a run for home, reasoning that our full basement was a safer location than a one-story strip mall.

I was fairly confident I could make it there in time.

Within moments I was fairly confident I was wrong.

Warning sirens began blaring as our van rounded the back of the building.  The girls continued to monitor the clouds through the back seat windows.  The wind picked up.  Rain, mixed with hail, started to pelt.  My pounding heart echoed the staccato sound.

Soon we were engulfed in Gray.  For all I knew we were driving straight into the tornado.  And believe me when I say I’m no storm chaser.

At this point I instructed Laurel to call home to see if we could get some idea of where the funnel cloud had been spotted and which direction it was moving.  Emily answered and informed us that “it” was “by the church.”  “We” were several blocks directly east of the church.

Gulp.

This was beginning to get real.

My heart now kept time with the windshield wipers set to their highest speed.  I pressed harder on the accelerator, my leg trembling involuntarily as we sped north towards the house.  At times visibility became so poor I feared I would drive right off the road.  Seeing no other cars around, it seemed that everyone had gotten the memo about the tornado’s location but me.

I began to pray.  Nonstop.  Out loud.  I’m not sure if my prayers were a welcome comfort to my three wide-eyed passengers, or an unsettling sign that a meeting with our Maker was imminent.  (I’m guessing the latter.)

Seconds felt like minutes felt like hours.  I just kept driving (read: speeding).  And praying (read: crying out to my Maker).

We finally skidded around the corner onto the dirt road that leads up the steep hill to our home.  I scaled that hill in record time, fishtailing as I floored it down (read: up) the homestretch.  We lurched to a stop in our driveway, flung open the car doors and bolted through the heavy rain into the house.  We were breathless and drenched.

But we were safe.

We later learned that a tornado did touch down east of town not long after our crazy storm chase.  Emily had witnessed some scary looking cloud rotation in the church parking lot.  It was all part of the same strong storm system that cut diagonally across the city that afternoon.  But as far as we know there never was an actual funnel cloud bearing down on us, despite how frighteningly real it felt at the time.

After the fact, a friend jokingly remarked that those moments of sheer terror were a great time to make sure one was “good with God.”

“Oh, I’m good,” I replied without hesitation.

You see, that’s the thing.  A tornado could have swept us up and into eternity that afternoon.  All of our days are numbered.  As Christian author and teacher Beth Moore once said:

“You gotta get home somehow.” *

Be it via tornado or illness or accident.  One day we will depart from this place we now call home.

It is vital to know that we are “good with God.”

I am.  I don’t base my confidence upon my own performance, but upon the perfection of the One I call Savior.  I love how Tullian Tchividjian put this in his excellent book One Way Love:

In other words, the older I get, the more smitten I become by the fact that God’s love for me, His approval and commitment to me, does not ride on my transformation but on Jesus’ substitution.  Jesus is infallibly devoted to us in spite of our inconsistent devotion to him.  The Gospel is not a command to hang on to Jesus.  It’s a promise that no matter how weak your faith and how unsuccessful your efforts may be, God is always holding on to you.”

Amen.

If you have placed your trust in Jesus, then as far as He’s concerned, you’re good with Him.  Not because you are good or even just good enough.  But because HE was!

Storms will come.  They are unpredictable, unavoidable, and inevitable.

In those moments of fear and uncertainty, you can be completely sure of this:

He is with you.

He will hold on to you.

He will deliver you safely Home.

“And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” –Jesus (John 6:39-40, NIV)

*From her teaching on Daniel 3.

 

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Let the Parents Come Unto Me

Hermann_Clementz_Christ_Blessing_the_Children_525

Jesus loves the little children.

And the big kids.

And their moms and dads.

I recently read a familiar passage in the Bible, the one in Mark 10 where Jesus says, “Let the little children come to Me.”  Only this time I approached it from the perspective of a parent.  I was greatly encouraged by this glimpse into God’s heart for children AND their parents.  (I pray you will be too.)

One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. (Mark 10:13, NLT)

Parenting is rewarding, challenging and humbling.  As a mother of three, I am constantly reminded of my need for divine assistance.  I’ve spent a good portion of the last two decades on my knees in prayer, “bringing my children to Jesus.”  My deepest desire, like those parents of old, is that each of my children would receive a life-changing touch from Him.  I come to Him because I believe He is the only source of true blessing.

But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. (Mark 10:14a, NLT)

Unlike the disciples, Jesus never gets tired of parents who approach Him on behalf of their children.  He is not irritated by our persistence.  He never scolds or turns us away.  We are not bothering Him.

Everyone knows it’s not wise to get between a mama bear and her cubs. Well, apparently it’s also not a good idea to get between the Lord and a God-fearing parent.  The well-meaning, but misguided disciples learned this the hard way…

When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. (Mark 10:14b, NLT)

Jesus was ticked. (My paraphrase.) This is one of the few instances in the Gospels where we are plainly told that Jesus was angry. The Greek word for “angry” is aganakteo, which means “to be indignant, moved with indignation, be very displeased.”*  The scolders got their own little scolding.

I love the fact that Jesus is passionate about our kids, that He is moved by our requests.  I am touched that He has an emotional reaction to anyone or anything that tries to come between Him and them.  And us.

(He) saw what was happening. (Mark 10:14a, NLT)

Jesus was fully aware of what was going on.  He saw the obstacles impeding their intimacy with Him, just as He sees them now.  He is never oblivious to our situation.

And He does something about it.

Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them. (Mark 10:16, NLT)

When our daughters were each a few months old, we dedicated them to the Lord in a simple, but meaningful church ceremony.  We promised to “bring them to Jesus” and teach them His ways.  Our pastor laid his hands on them and blessed them.  Two of those babies are now all grown up.  Their younger sister is not far behind.

The same Jesus who heard our prayers then, hears our prayers now.  They remain His children, just as they will always remain ours.  He still longs to hold them.  Bless them.  Be close to them.

No matter how old they are.

Regardless of what blocks their path.

Dear parent, God knows it’s tough sometimes.  It’s trying and tiring.  Just keep trusting, praying and bringing them to Jesus.  He’ll clear the way.

You may be their parent, but you are also His child.

Let Him hold and bless you too.

*From The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon

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What’s Next?

I like to talk to God out loud when I’m alone in the car.  I’m sure it looks strange.  I try not to care what the other drivers around me think.

Last Friday I had a lunch date in Colorado with a good friend.  I always look forward to our annual “Christmas Catch-up.”  I also looked forward to my “date” with the Lord on the way there and back.  As I merged onto the southbound lane of I-25, I began sharing my heart with Him in prayer.

I was feeling burdened by an important decision affecting our family, wondering what was next.  I asked God to guide us and show us His will.  As I prayed, the Holy Spirit brought to mind several truths.  While I still don’t know the outcome of this particular situation, here is what I DO know…

1)  HE knows.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11, NLT)

We may not know the future, but we know the One who does.  Even though the path before us is unclear, He knows exactly what waits around the bend.  This brings welcome peace in the midst of uncertainty.

2)  I can “Do the next thing.”

Years ago I was privileged to attend a conference where author and former missionary Elisabeth Elliot spoke.  She shared how overwhelmed she felt upon returning to the mission field following her husband’s death. This phrase helped guide her:

When you don’t know what to do next, simply do the next thing.”

Continuing down the highway, I recalled her words.  I could see my “next thing” clearly, a conversation that needed to take place.  I would try and make that happen.

Then the Lord reminded me of this verse:

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10, NAS)

I’ve always pictured Ephesians 2:10 something like this:

footprintssnow

God has gone before us.  The good works He has lovingly prepared and uniquely equipped each of us to do stretch out before us, like footprints in the snow.  Our job is simply to place our foot in the imprint of His, one step at a time.  Sometimes blowing snow obscures the trail.   But if we sit tight our view will eventually clear.

Are you faced with a difficult decision or a challenging situation?  Rest in the fact that God has prepared the way and knows the outcome.  Can you see your next step?  Then take it.  Just do the next thing.  Step by step, you’ll get to where you need to be.

It’s a new year, full of possibilities and unknowns.  Our future is known and planned by our heavenly Father.  He will faithfully guide us, each step of the way.

(For an in-depth study of Jeremiah 29:11, check this out:  http://shelleylloydsmith.com/?p=1209 )

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The Answer

“You are the answer to my prayers!’

This was the sentiment on the front of a greeting card I once came across.  I still remember it years later, because upon opening the card the recipient was hit with this zinger:

“You’re not what I prayed for exactly, but apparently you’re the answer.”

Um…thank you?

Perhaps I can also still recall this particular card because it exposes a deeper reality, one that is often unsettling and confusing:

Sometimes God’s answers don’t exactly match our requests.

Can I get an Amen?

My latest experience with this has come through our recent quest for a puppy.  In July I made an appointment with a local Shih Tzu breeder, hoping to find a female puppy in time for Laurel’s upcoming birthday.  On the way there I prayed and asked God for wisdom and direction.  Instead of choosing one of two available female puppies on site, I felt inexplicably drawn to a sweet expectant mama, “Katie,” who was due in mid-August.  Believing this to be God’s leading, I nervously put down a deposit to secure the pick of the litter, and began praying that she would have at least one female pup.

We surprised Laurel on her birthday a couple of weeks later with a tiny pink polka-dot dog collar.  She was thrilled and quite content to wait for her special puppy’s arrival.  In the meantime she picked out a cute little girl’s name and prayed for her daily.  (Can you see where this is going?)

Last week, the long-awaited call from the breeder finally came.

Only there was no ‘Her.’

Just a ‘Him.’

Huh?

There were some tears.  Disappointment.  Confusion.  A mini crisis of faith.

We went and met the little guy anyway.  Took some pictures.  Tried to adjust to the idea of having a boy instead of a girl.  A restless night followed.

The next morning I noticed a change in Laurel’s countenance.  She was now confident that this dog was God’s answer to her prayers.  When I asked her to elaborate, she said, “Mom, I know God led you to choose Katie and that He wouldn’t mislead you.  He knew all along that she wasn’t going to have a girl.  So God gave me a boy instead.”

And that settled it.

I admire her faith.  It’s the kind that says, “God, I trust Your heart and Your character, even when the outcome isn’t what I had hoped for.  You are Good.  You give good gifts.  Therefore, I receive what You give as good.”

When I grow up, I want to be more like my daughter.

So, meet “Beau.”  (Chris is just fine with that name, as long as Laurel agrees to have only one “beau” at a time.  He is praying the dog will lead a long and healthy life.)

He’s not what we prayed for exactly.

But apparently ‘he’ is the answer!

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Little Beau at one week old

“Indeed, the Lord will give what is good…” (Psalm 85:12a, NAS)

P.S.  The pink collar has been exchanged for a sparkly silver one.  He may be a boy, but this boy will have his bling!

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